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Sexual health education in Ireland not just outdated but 'often inaccurate', study finds

It found that 85% of young people have been exposed to misinformation about sexual health.

Image: Shutterstock/fizkes

YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE been told by teachers that people don’t usually get pregnant from rape and that they could get pregnant by touching a door handle with semen on it, according to a new study.  

The study carried out by Plan International Ireland’s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) found that 85% of young people have been exposed to misinformation about sexual health. 

More than 500 people aged between 15 and 24-years-old were surveyed for the study ‘KnoWhere To Go: Navigating sexual & reproductive health misinformation in school and online in Ireland’.

The study found that less than 1% of young people would look to their school for further information on sexual health, that 59% of young people have encountered misinformation on birth control and contraception while a further 61% encountered misinformation about LGBTI+identified. 

One respondent told the survey: “My Teacher told me people didn’t usually get pregnant from rape, something about not conceiving if your body goes through trauma.”

Another said: “So many girls I know were unaware that they had been sexually assaulted due to misinformation surrounding consent.”

The study found that almost half (46%) of young people were misinformed through internet sources, social media and pornography, 29% through schools and 25% through friends or family. 

Two-thirds of people surveyed said they got most of their information about consent from the internet or social media.

“While the provision of sexual health education in Ireland has frequently been described as outdated, this research demonstrates that the information students are receiving in schools is not only absent, but when it is delivered it is often inaccurate,” the survey states.

“The effects of misinformation on sexual health can be varied, from simply being confused about your own body or identity, to unintended pregnancies or STIs as a result of ineffective contraceptive use,” it found. 

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“However, when asked if they had any examples about encountering misinformation or suffering negative effects from it there was a shockingly high number of individuals who stated they were unaware they had been sexually assaulted due to a misunderstanding around consent.”

The YAP has made a number of recommendations arising from the study including the development of a peer-led sexual health education programme to be introduced in every secondary school. 

It also calls for an online resource to be developed to “present factual, age-appropriate information on sexual health, developed in consultation with young people and trusted partners” as well as comprehensive digital media literacy programmes. 

The YAP has called for relationships and sexuality education curriculum to be reformed in line with international best practice.

The report and its recommendations were brought to the Taoiseach’s office yesterday as part of an International Day of the Girl.

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